Jezreel (Israel): Evidence of Naboth’s Vineyard ?

Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz

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« And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab, king of Shomron.” II Kings 21:1 (The Israel Bible™)
Naboth king ahabNaboth and King Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard, from the Biblical story in II Kings (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Using laser technology, an archaeologist has discovered that the Biblical story of Naboth’s coveted vineyard is quite probably a factual account describing conditions that did exist at the time. Her findings suggest a slightly different reading of the story, which not all Bible scholars may agree with.
Dr. Norma Franklin, one of the heads of the Jezreel Expedition, recently reported on some of the remarkable archaeological discoveries made in the Jezreel Valley. The expedition established that the valley was a major wine producing area in Biblical times. This opens up speculation as to the veracity of the Biblical story of Naboth’s vineyard, which was said to have taken place in the Jezreel Valley.

The clues to the Biblical connection originally came to light in 2012 when a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) scan, using pulsed lasers, revealed several features that had remained hidden for centuries. Several wine and olive presses were discovered including the largest ancient winepress in Israel found to date. The survey also revealed over 100 bottle-shaped pits carved into the bedrock. Dr. Franklin theorized that many of these pits were used to store wine.

As a result of her findings, Dr. Franklin is convinced that the Biblical story of the conflict between Naboth and King Ahav over a vineyard in the Jezreel Valley could very well have taken place precisely as described.

Jezreel wineryLiDAR map of Jezreel area. Winery is in Area K. (Photo: Jezreel Expedition)

As an archaeologist, I cannot say that there was definitely a specific man named Naboth who had a particular vineyard,” Dr Franklin told Breaking Israel News. “The story is very old but from what I have found, I can say that the story as described in the Bible quite probably could have occurred here in the Jezreel.”

Despite technological advances in recent years, archaeology still has limitations. Vineyards do not leave behind any lasting signs, so it is impossible to determine the exact site of Naboth’s vineyard. A soil analysis by the Kibbutz Yizre’el did discover an area of land with the ideal qualities for growing grapes.

It was difficult to determine the construction date of the winepress, which measures at about 12 meters square, since it was carved into the bedrock. Based on the structure of the press, Dr Franklin suggested the site was established before 300 BCE, a timeframe that would certainly allow for Naboth to be producing wine at that site.

Vineyard and the winery in jezreelThe area of the discovery (Photo: Jezreel Expedition)
The discovery of wine-related artifacts and their important role in Biblical narrative comes as no surprise. Grapes are one of the seven species that bear a special blessing in the land of Israel.
In fact, this blessing has a practical benefit in that wine production has always been prominent in Israel, constituting one of the major exports of in ancient times. This blessing was unrealized for centuries while the region was ruled by Muslims, who forbid the consumption of alcohol.
But Dr. Franklin’s discovery bears special significance since nowhere is the Biblical significance importance of vineyards more evident than in the story of Naboth and King Ahav. The Biblical narrative takes place in the fertile Jezreel Valley, an agricultural center to this day. According to the 21st chapter of the Book of Kings, Naboth owned a vineyard on the eastern slope of the hill of Jezreel near the palace of King Ahav. The king coveted the land but Naboth did not want to sell the plot, and since it was an inheritance, Torah law forbade him from selling it outright. Queen Jezebel intervened, staging a mock trial in order to seize Naboth’s property. The prophet Elijah confronted Ahav, who repented.

According to the Bible, King Ahav wanted to turn the vineyard into a vegetable garden.

Dr. Franklin doubts the precision of several aspects of the narrative.

This makes no sense when we know the importance of viticulture at that time and likely points to it having been a later addition to the narrative,” she told Breaking Israel News, noting that a king of that time had special needs for large quantities of wine for entertaining and for his troops.

Dr. Franklin noted that Naboth probably did not live in the Jezreel.

Calling him a Jezreeli implies that he was from there but he did not live there, ,” said Dr Franklin. “Owning a vineyard would make him wealthy since wine was an important commodity. I reckon that since he was from the aristocracy he probably lived in Samaria and had more than one vineyard. This would give a slightly different picture than the Bible, which implies, though does not state explicitly, that he was a poor man being abused by the wealthy king.”

Dr. Franklin also suggested an alternative interpretation of another aspect of story.

Most Biblical scholars agree that the story was written down after the return from Babylon which coincides with Nehemiah telling Israel to turn away their foreign wives,” Dr. Franklin said. “It could be that the story of Jezebel, painting her as a horrible woman, made her appear worse than she really was. In some sense, she was a good wife, helping her husband who was sulking and depressed.”

Not religious in her personal life, Dr. Franklin reads the Bible with a critical eye. Nonetheless, she does see the Bible as having relevance for her research in Israel.

There is no doubt that the Bible is a useful source,” Dr. Franklin said. “All archaeologists use the Bible, but some use it more cautiously.”